4 tips for handling burnout at work, according to the author of 'Laziness Does Not Exist'

"We aren't machines, and our life experiences and past work loads affect us."


If you haven't felt engaged with your job lately, you're not alone. Almost half, 48%, of American workers are actively looking for a new opportunity, according to a Gallup poll.

For some, quitting has been the answer: There is a record amount of job openings, according to data from the U.S. Department of Labor, and during April, May, and June of 2021, a whopping 11.5 million people quit their jobs.

This exodus, which is being called The Great Resignation, is a symptom of the pandemic and totally understandable, says Devon Price, author of "Laziness Does Not Exist" and a clinical assistant professor at Loyola University Chicago, who uses the pronouns they/them. "An international mass-death event is a really terrifying thing to endure, and it makes you question a lot of your old goals that, in the face of a threat so massive and existential, may suddenly not seem worth it," they say.

When you're feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, it's easy to view yourself as lazy. Price, however, says you might want to rethink that characterization. You might be dealing with feelings of burnout. Burnout can be characterized by three dimensions, according to the World Health Organization:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one's job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

4 ways to cope with burnout at work

If you're experiencing burnout, Price and career experts suggest implementing some new habits.

1. Shorten your to-do list

"If you can't do everything that is on that list, that is meaningful information about what you are capable of," Price says. "I find almost everyone is doing too much, and setting out to do more than they have the time or energy for, and then when they fail to do the impossible, they feel lazy."

You might have to "get sneaky" to shorten your to-do list, they say. "Can you streamline a process or cut corners on something that is not that important," Price says. "Is there a meeting you can skip, or an overly demanding person you are comfortable disappointing so that you can honor yourself?"

2. Take breaks

Schedule breaks on your calendar, says Amanda Augustine, a career expert at TopResume. "You can keep burnout at bay by blocking off one to two small breaks on your calendar to walk around and get away from your desk," Augustine says.

Make sure you're taking a real lunch break and using all your vacation days, too, she says: "If you don't regularly take a lunch break away from your desk, consider doing so at least a few days a week. In addition, if you haven't used any of your vacation days, now's the time to make some plans."

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Video by Courtney Stith

3. Set boundaries in your physical space

If your office hasn't reopened, you might be working from your kitchen table or in your bedroom. This means that your personal and professional life might bleed into one another, says Angelina Darrisaw, a career coach and founder of C-Suite Coach.

Setting boundaries in your physical space can help work seem less all-encompassing. "When the time you've dedicated to work has ended, pack those things up or choose not to revisit that space, so the rest of your home can be associated with your free, independent time," Darrisaw says.

4. Create a self-care routine

Planning a slew of activities you look forward to can give you energy, Darrisaw says. "Waking up every morning and taking an hour to listen to an upbeat podcast, meditating, and even enjoying a cup of coffee is enough to establish the 'me time' you need to give you the burst of energy to power through the tasks of the day."

Remember, what feels like laziness can be a 'warning'

If you're feeling burnt out, it's probably a signal from your body that you need to slow down, Price says. "What we typically call 'laziness' is your body and your mind's warning system that you are doing far too much," they say. "We aren't machines, and our life experiences and past work loads affect us, so at some periods, we have far less energy and focus than other times."

That may especially be true now. After all, for many workers, quitting their job is not an option. More than one-third, 36%, of Americans could not afford a $400 emergency expense, according to the Federal Reserve's 2020 Survey of Household Economics and Decisionmaking.

An international mass-death event is a really terrifying thing to endure, and it makes you question a lot of your old goals.
Devon Price
author of 'Laziness Does Not Exist'

"Most of the working world really believes in what I call the 'Laziness Lie' — this idea that it is always morally superior to say 'yes' rather than to say 'no,' and that when a person is tired or unmotivated, those feelings are suspect and should be ignored and pushed through," Price says.

Remember, though, rest doesn't have to be "earned," Price says. It's necessary. "We all feel the need to justify taking care of our bodies and minds. We feel we have to prove we have worked enough and accomplished enough to 'earn' a rest, when needing rest and food and time for daydreaming are actually nonnegotiable."

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